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House of Commons

Monday 6 February 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Disability Benefit

1. Mr. Stevens : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people have received disability benefit in the present financial year ; and how many received it in 1978-79.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : Since 1978- 79 there have been large increases in the numbers of people receiving benefits because of long-term sickness or disability. For example, the numbers receiving invalidity benefit have increased by 88 per cent. to 1.1 million ; attendance allowance by 186 per cent. to 760,000 ; and mobility allowance by 458 per cent. to 530,000. I shall, with permission, circulate full details in the Official Report.

Mr. Stevens : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. It shows the Government's continuing commitment to helping those with disabilities. I am sure that it will be welcomed not only by disabled people, but by all members of the community. Will my hon. Friend comment on the expenditure required in real terms in the present year compared with that in 1978-79?

Mr. Scott : This year expenditure will amount to some £7.3 billion, which represents a £3.5 billion real terms increase over the 1978-79 figure.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Is the Minister aware that there are quite a number of people who are registered as disabled, yet who do not qualify as disabled for the purpose of housing benefit? Does he have any idea of the numbers involved? Does he have any proposals to remedy this, and to ensure that those who qualify receive their benefit more quickly than is sometimes the case?

Mr. Scott : We are always anxious to ensure that benefits are paid speedily once people have qualified for them. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point about housing benefit.

Mr. Marlow : Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, while we can take pride in the fact that, as a party and a Government, we have been far more generous--quite rightly so--to the disabled than the Labour party, it is also fair to point out that, at this important Question Time, there are only four Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber?

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Mr. Scott : I am afraid that the Opposition must answer for that.

Mr. Alfred Morris : While everyone knows that more claimants means higher costs, how many disablement benefits have not increased in real value since 1979? How many disabled people lost free prescriptions and free school meals last April? How many are on transitional protection and will thus have no increase in their benefits this April? Will their standard of living not, therefore, slump as rising prices eat further into this so- called protection? Again, how many disabled people have had their housing benefit cut?

Mr. Scott : I can understand the hon. Gentleman clutching at straws as he tries to protect the Labour Government's record. Of the £3.5 billion extra money in real terms which this Government are spending on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled, some £3 billion is because of the wider scope of those benefits--more people are applying for them--and £ billion is because of increases in real terms in the level of benefits.

Following is the information :

Estimated average numbers of weekly benefit payments at any one     



Benefit                               |1978-79  |1988-89            


Invalidity Benefit                    |600,000  |1,130,000          

Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit |210,000  |210,000            

War Disablement Pension               |291,000  |195,000            

Attendance Allowance                  |265,000  |760,000            

Invalid Care Allowance                |6,000    |100,000            

NCIP/SDA                              |150,000  |265,000            

Mobility Allowance                    |95,000   |530,000            

Income-related benefits               |355,000  |450,000            



Notes: Beneficiaries may be receiving more than one benefit at any  

one time.                                                           

Social Fund

2. Ms. Quin : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the operation of the social fund to date.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Moore) : We have been closely monitoring the social fund, and the original fears which were expressed about the adequacy of its budget, the introduction of loans, the discretionary nature of the scheme and the review system, have proved to be unfounded. Loans have reached anticipated levels of expenditure and community care grants have steadily risen to 77 per cent. of anticipated monthly expenditure. Over 600,000 interest-free loans have been made and more than 86, 000 community care grants have been awarded. The review system is proving to be a speedy and effective means of handling disputed decisions. Reviews are completed in a matter of days rather than the weeks it took for an appeal to be completed.

Ms. Quin : Despite what the Minister has said, will he agree that urgent changes in the way that the social fund works are needed, especially if those who deserve grants are to be in a position to take them up? Will he agree that

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so far all the independent evidence shows that the social fund has failed to relieve the poverty which the Government said it was designed to tackle?

Mr. Moore : I had hoped that the hon. Lady would have listened to what I said before she read out her prepared question. I shall continue, as the Government must and should, to monitor the situation. I am not completely content because I believe that the officers have been applying the conditions for the community care grants too rigidly. I am determined to ensure that it is a success and that all of the fundamental objections raised when the social fund was first introduced are disproved.

Mr. McCrindle : I welcome a large part of my right hon. Friend's reply. Does that mean that the fears that have been expressed by some--dare I remind him, on both sides of the House--that the cash-limited arrangements may prove inadequate, are likely to be allayed? Is he satisfied that the money allocated will be adequate at least in this financial year? To put this matter in perspective, will my right hon. Friend remind the House what would happen if the amount allocated proved to be inadequate?

Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that we announced in the uprating statement the allocation for 1989-90, which was confirmed in the autumn statement and in the recent public expenditure White Paper. Despite a happy massive reduction in unemployment and therefore a major reduction in case load, those allocations have been maintained. Therefore there should be an increase per case in the funds available. I hope that that will reassure my hon. Friend. I know that he takes a serious interest in this and I know that he will have noted carefully what I said in my opening answer.

Miss Lestor : When the Minister reviews the social fund, will he consider particularly some of the problems that have arisen in Salford--I am sure similar problems have been encountered in other places--where people who have been in hospital a long time and those in residential care who cannot get other accommodation, have had to refuse private rented accommodation because the social fund does not cover deposits that are required in that sector? He also said that he would make some comment to the House on the Barnado's report on the problems of youngsters coming out of care and their accommodation difficulties. Will he do so now?

Mr. Moore : Obviously I will watch carefully how the social fund works because I am determined to ensure that this much more effective method of helping those in need is monitored and adjusted if necessary. Recently I met representatives of certain organisations who raised the difficulties that they believe are being faced by a particular group of 16 and 17-year-olds. Obviously I shall consider that matter with care.

I should stress to the hon. Lady that if one considers the different offices and the differential way in which the rules on community care grants in particular are applied, one realises that serious application by social workers, by local authorities and by diligent Members of Parliament- -I know that the hon. Lady is such a Member--will ensure that community care grants are effectively spent.

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Mrs. Roe : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether there are any items or expenses, previously excluded from the single payment expenses, which are now covered under the social fund?

Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend is right to remind me that, because it is a discretionary fund, there are many examples of local expenditure that all sides of the House would welcome. One office, for example, paid for a holiday for a family whose young daughter had been seriously sexually abused--not surprisingly all the family had been under considerable stress. In another case a £500 grant was given for a teletext television for a deaf elderly pensioner, living alone, who had become extremely isolated. I could give many other illustrations of payments which could not have been covered under the old single payments system.

Mr. Fearn : Is the Secretary of State aware that many offices are now reporting problems because people are having great difficulty in trying to fill in the 17-page form? Has he any ideas for changing that form, which is causing a great deal of trouble?

Mr. Moore : On a previous occasion my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that we were looking at the form and we shall continue to do so. When that form is filled out with the help of the staff at local offices, it is producing considerable success in terms of the numbers of applications for grants. I am constantly looking at all of our forms because I am anxious to ensure that those who are entitled to receive those benefits with the help of the form and our offices.

Personal Pension Schemes

3. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many personal pension schemes have been established at the latest available date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : Nearly 1 million people have opted so far to take outa personal pension, through 122 personal pension schemes.

Mr. Stern : I am most grateful for that reply. Does my hon. Friend recollect the way in which the Opposition fought the principle of personal pensions line by line and clause by clause during consideration of the Social Security Bill 1986? Does he agree that that shows, once again, how the Opposition object to any extension of freedom, although more than 1 million people have so far supported this extension of freedom?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that there was no enthusiasm by the Opposition for personal pensions. The figures that I have just given my hon. Friend show that there is enormous enthusiasm among those sections of the work force which, by and large, were not eligible to join the occupational pension schemes. Quite clearly, they wanted to do so.

Businessr j 3-1 of Service" (Report)

4. Mr. Summerson : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he is acting on any of the recommendations made in the "Business of Service" report.

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12. Mr. Patnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how relocation of social security office work out of London will affect service to the customer.

Mr. Moore : I have accepted most of the recommendations of the "Business of Service" report and I am in the process of implementing them. Relocating some social security work will enable us to improve the current unsatisfactory service that customers receive in some London offices. By moving backroom work out of London we shall be able to provide a better, more efficient and responsive service to our customers. All the affected London offices will remain open, some on better sites, and more branch offices will be opened in poorly served areas.

Mr. Summerson : Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that no social security offices in my constituency will be closed? If any are closed that will obviously result in a far worse service to my constituents.

Mr. Moore : As I have said, there are no proposals to close offices although some are not regarded by our staff as being in the best locations to serve my hon. Friend's customers who are also, happily, his constituents.

Mr. Patnick : Will my right hon. Friend tell us the effect of moving the London social security offices to the regions? Are any scheduled to go to Sheffield, Hallam? Assuming that the answer is no, will he consider moving some there because I am sure that that would benefit the city greatly?

Mr. Moore : On this occasion I cannot give any joy to my hon. Friend. I commend him for the way in which he argues for his constituents. The three social security centres that I announced recently will be in Glasgow, Belfast and the Wigan area. We shall, of course, consider further relocation for parts of my headquarter operation. I shall take seriously the interests of the assisted areas in parts of the country where, tragically, there are still higher levels of unemployment than I would like.

Mrs. Beckett : Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the computer projects, on whose efficient operation the success of this proposal depends, the social fund program for example is now running on its sixth version and still contains 100 mistakes? Is he aware that when queries are made at local offices about delays and mistakes in the payment of benefits that are handled centrally, such as some disability benefits, the usual answer is, "That has nothing to do with us, it is a matter for Blackpool, Glasgow or Newcastle"--or wherever? It is widely believed that these delays occur because there is not enough staff at those locations to cope with the workload. Does the Secretary of State expect the House to believe that the proposals will lead to an improved service while still saving £4 million a year?

Mr. Moore : The hon. Lady is wrong, and not only on the detailed facts about the computer program. I had hoped that she would wish to commend it because, despite the initial teething troubles in parts of the computer program, it is one of the most successful operations by civil servants that I have seen in our country for generations. However, that is not relevant to the actual decisions. I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that the key problems relate to the difficulties of many employers in London about high wastage, rates, working conditions and the costs of London work. I noted carefully the warm reaction by

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many hon. Members to the sensible relocation to those areas of the country that will benefit. That relocation also helps customers, staff and the taxpayer.

Mr. Colin Shepherd : In his laudable attempts to improve the service to the customer by the relocation of Social Security Department facilities, will my right hon. Friend bend his mind to the facilities that have already been relocated? The attendance allowance delays that are reported to me in my surgery are getting far and away out of hand. There is inordinate delay in dealing with applications and appeals relating to attendance allowance. That needs to be corrected. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to do so?

Mr. Moore : Of course. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We are discussing relocation and the ability of our centres to give good customer service, whether on family credit or attendance allowance. I am determined to achieve such a service. Despite current difficulties we have seen considerable improvements in the last year.

Social Fund (St. Helens)

5. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the social fund allocation for his Department's offices in St. Helens for the next two years.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : I will, with permission, circulate details of the social fund allocations for 1989-90 to offices in Great Britain in the Official Report. I shall also place a copy in the Library. The allocation to St. Helens is £806,802 comprising £574,468 for loans and £232,334 for grants. Decisions on the allocations for 1990-91 will be made nearer that time.

Mr. Evans : Is the Minister aware that in St. Helens, the DSS has spent less than 40 per cent. of this year's budget for community grants? Does he accept that one of the reasons for this is the bewildering complexity of the forms that applicants have to fill in? I recently spent over an hour filling in one of those forms for a confused pensioner. Will the Minister give an undertaking that when he fixes the budgets for the next two years, he will greatly simplify the application forms? That would greatly improve the take-up, because the problem is that people do not understand the forms.

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Member will be pleased to know that the expenditure of his local office on grants in December went up to 50 per cent. I should like to place on record the appreciation of the local office of his interest in seeing that these grants are paid to the people who need them.

Such a constructive approach will help to ensure that this money, which is intended for those in most need, gets to them. If we can also assist by improving the forms still further, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we shall certainly do so. As these grants go to those in the community in most need of assistance, we depend on other organisations, local Members of Parliament and social services departments to assist in ensuring that the money reaches the people for whom it is intended.

Following are the details :

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Social Fund                                                               

Budget allocations 1989-90                                                

                              |Loans     |Grants    |Total                


1. London (North) Region                                                  

Acton                         |285,951   |124,062   |410,013              

Aylesbury                     |133.151   |59,100    |192,251              

Banbury                       |87,735    |38,153    |125,888              

Barking                       |313,684   |140,139   |453,824              

Barnet                        |100,310   |46,161    |146,471              

Basildon                      |515,435   |228,294   |743,729              

Bedford                       |247,883   |107,485   |355,368              

Braintree                     |133,622   |59,026    |192,647              

Bury St. Edmunds              |150,749   |66,576    |217,325              

Cambridge                     |258,778   |117,435   |376,213              

Canning Town                  |263,616   |110,592   |374,208              

Chelmsford                    |133,780   |60,757    |194,537              

Clacton                       |109,000   |48,123    |157,124              

Colchester                    |179,783   |77,927    |257,710              

Cricklewood                   |250,516   |107,215   |357,731              

Diss                          |34,061    |15,683    |49,745               

Dunstable                     |89,722    |40,087    |129,809              

Ealing                        |266,310   |115,991   |382,301              

Edgware                       |161,636   |69,648    |231,284              

Edmonton                      |228,510   |101,596   |330,105              

Euston                        |254,847   |109,969   |364,816              

Finsbury Park                 |505,202   |217,845   |723,047              

Grays                         |234,643   |104,912   |339,555              

Great Yarmouth                |203,304   |92,448    |295,752              

Hackney                       |654,199   |275,244   |929,443              

Harlesden                     |437,683   |190,576   |628,259              

Harlow                        |201,413   |89,825    |291,238              

Harrow                        |194,377   |82,843    |277,220              

Hemel Hempstead               |117,928   |53,616    |171,544              

Hendon                        |231,161   |101,149   |332,310              

Hertford                      |111,065   |49,724    |160,790              

High Wycombe                  |160,748   |74,785    |235,532              

Highgate                      |391,619   |169,589   |561,208              

Hoxton                        |385,192   |169,034   |554,226              

Ilford                        |378,610   |167,826   |546,436              

Ipswich                       |263,156   |114,982   |378,138              

Kings Lynn                    |247,648   |108,361   |356,009              

Leytonstone                   |327,224   |144,319   |471,543              

Lowestoft                     |186,885   |82,482    |269,366              

Luton                         |348,434   |143,619   |492,053              

Milton Keynes                 |290,573   |124,913   |415,486              

Neasden                       |398,912   |166,445   |565,357              

Norwich Chantry               |286,113   |125,940   |412,054              

Norwich Mountergate           |454,483   |192,742   |647,225              

Notting Hill                  |236,467   |100,841   |337,309              

Oxford                        |442,510   |188,702   |631,212              

Paddington                    |364,673   |168,491   |533,164              

Peterborough                  |646,116   |273,462   |919,578              

Plaistow                      |357,728   |152,462   |510,190              

Poplar                        |366,524   |155,452   |521,976              

Romford                       |213,071   |97,879    |310,950              

Shoreditch                    |342,534   |153,003   |495,537              

Southall                      |209,844   |95,113    |304,957              

Southend                      |274,268   |120,203   |394,471              

St. Albans                    |120,455   |55,978    |176,434              

Stepney                       |198,289   |84,902    |283,191              

Stevenage                     |198,476   |85,672    |284,148              

Stoke Newington               |308,676   |132,623   |441,299              

Thames North                  |19,115    |6,861     |25,976               

Tottenham                     |440,379   |187,222   |627,601              

Uxbridge                      |121,234   |52,991    |174,225              

Walthamstow                   |262,535   |118,346   |380,881              

Watford                       |119,905   |55,380    |175,285              

Wood Green                    |201,433   |92,723    |294,155              

Woodgrange Park               |587,725   |246,991   |834,716              


Totals                        |17,241,606|7,512,537 |24,754,143           


2. London (South) region                                                  

Aldershot                     |169,186   |72,675    |241,861              

Andover                       |66,391    |30,294    |96,685               

Ashford                       |104,572   |47,027    |151,599              

Balham                        |418,883   |179,798   |598,680              

Basingstoke                   |83,582    |35,833    |119,415              

Battersea                     |424,376   |191,711   |616,087              

Bexley                        |243,385   |108,041   |351,426              

Bloomsbury                    |181,066   |84,079    |265,145              

Bognor Regis                  |108,363   |48,769    |157,132              

Bracknell                     |104,382   |47,919    |152,301              

Brighton                      |358,554   |161,888   |520,443              

Brixton                       |381,073   |170,379   |551,452              

Bromley                       |157,237   |72,107    |229,344              

Camberwell                    |409,866   |175,936   |585,802              

Canterbury                    |123,008   |58,173    |181,181              

Chatham                       |270,121   |109,755   |379,876              

Chelsea                       |331,875   |143,897   |475,772              

Chichester                    |60,968    |28,308    |89,276               

City (London)                 |99,362    |44,892    |144,254              

Crawley                       |122,128   |54,771    |176,899              

Croydon                       |346,726   |151,909   |498,635              

Crystal Palace                |394,266   |179,061   |573,329              

Dartford                      |99,943    |45,234    |145,176              

Dover                         |92,882    |40,139    |133,021              

Eastbourne                    |166,062   |75,210    |241,272              

Eltham                        |73,952    |30,853    |104,705              

Epson                         |55,197    |25,109    |80,307               

Fareham                       |199,443   |82,192    |281,635              

Folkestone                    |116,633   |50,778    |167,412              

Gravesend                     |112,102   |47,824    |159,926              

Greenwich Park                |518,737   |221,658   |740,394              

Guildford                     |118,566   |55,356    |173,922              

Hastings                      |216,838   |105,866   |322,704              

Havant                        |213,702   |88,386    |302,088              

Hither Green                  |124,471   |55,010    |179,481              

Hounslow                      |379,484   |165,053   |544,537              

Hove                          |165,047   |78,407    |243,453              

Isle of Wight                 |219,260   |94,957    |314,217              

Kennington Park               |369,213   |153,717   |522,931              

Kensington                    |194,750   |84,225    |278,974              

Kingston                      |147,986   |66,848    |214,834              

Lewes                         |104,012   |46,160    |150,172              

Lewisham                      |562,602   |239,216   |801,818              

Maidstone                     |153,068   |67,957    |221,025              

Mitcham                       |124,714   |57,076    |181,790              

New Forest                    |142,157   |60,615    |202,772              

Newbury                       |79,425    |36,403    |115,828              

Orpington                     |87,293    |39,371    |126,664              

Oval                          |368,777   |164,364   |533,140              

Peckham                       |329,774   |145,861   |475,635              

Portsmouth North              |174,625   |76,515    |251,140              

Portsmouth South              |159,300   |68,800    |228,101              

Reading                       |373,843   |159,827   |533,670              

Redhill                       |99,776    |45,275    |145,050              

Rochester                     |115,513   |49,712    |165,225              

Sittingbourne                 |169,896   |70,100    |239,996              

Slough                        |218,278   |94,424    |312,701              

Southampton                   |482,712   |201,592   |684,304              

Southwark                     |449,003   |208,657   |657,660              

Streatham                     |353,899   |150,008   |503,907              

Surbiton                      |62,437    |27,105    |89,543               

Sutton                        |76,670    |33,951    |110,621              

Thames South                  |24,631    |9,558     |34,188               

Thanet                        |251,531   |113,336   |364,866              

Tunbridge Wells               |113,626   |51,854    |165,480              

Twickenham                    |76,998    |35,246    |112,244              

Wandsworth                    |207,195   |90,505    |297,700              

Westminster                   |157,312   |70,120    |227,432              

Wimbledon                     |167,140   |71328     |238,469              

Winchester                    |94,606    |40,696    |135,302              

Woking                        |150,769   |65,440    |216,209              

Woolwich                      |733,974   |310,327   |1,044,301            

Worthing                      |152,338   |68,600    |220,938              

                              |-------   |-------   |-------              

Totals                        |15,361,432|6,734,045 |22,095,477           


3. Midlands Region                                                        

Birmingham Bradford Street    |320,370   |130,510   |450,881              

Birmingham Edgbaston          |598,925   |255,223   |854,147              

Birmingham Erdington          |558,105   |243,468   |801,573              

Birmingham Handsworth         |770,837   |319,141   |1,089,978            

Birmingham Ladywood           |460,311   |196,366   |656,677              

Birmingham Northfield         |522,226   |219,897   |742,124              

Birmingham Perry Barr         |386,241   |157,206   |543,447              

Birmingham Ravenshurst        |281,772   |130,204   |411,975              

Birmingham South Yardley      |526,576   |226,042   |752,619              

Birmingham Sparkhill          |217,807   |92,197    |310,004              

Birmingham Washwood Heath     |476,779   |200,111   |676,890              

Boston                        |121,624   |53,006    |174,631              

Burton on Trent               |120,875   |53,787    |174,663              

Cannock                       |206,560   |83,324    |289,883              

Chesterfield                  |394,692   |168,124   |562,816              

Corby                         |183,483   |77,647    |261,130              

Coventry East                 |708,200   |288,114   |996,314              

Coventry West                 |466,926   |189,889   |656,815              

Derby Becket Street           |223,321   |100,276   |323,597              

Derby Heritage Gate           |133,854   |58,280    |192,134              

Derby London Road             |322,844   |135,672   |458,517              

Dudley North                  |454,371   |185,705   |640,076              

Dudley South                  |206,145   |92,016    |298,161              

Grantham                      |119,829   |49,610    |169,439              

Hereford                      |205,712   |93,538    |299,249              

Ilkeston                      |201,578   |86,709    |288,286              

Kidderminster                 |242,695   |98,136    |340,831              

Leamington                    |194,228   |86,954    |281,182              

Leicester Burleys Way         |235,126   |102,735   |337,860              

Leicester Lower Hill Street   |357,728   |152,658   |510,386              

Leicester Norton Street       |408,438   |177,152   |585,590              

Leicester Yeoman Street       |575,257   |249,696   |824,953              

Lichfield                     |315,354   |128,305   |443,659              

Lincoln Newland               |317,210   |137,289   |454,499              

Lincoln Orchard Street        |367,347   |170,103   |537,451              

Loughborough                  |173,927   |75,223    |249,150              

Mansfield                     |368,727   |159,906   |528,634              

Newcastle (Staffs)            |241,422   |99,542    |340,964              

Northampton                   |353,813   |155,376   |509,189              

Nottingham Castle Gate        |327,027   |139,345   |466,371              

Nottingham David Lane         |369,118   |157,536   |526,654              

Nottingham Shakespeare Street |481,403   |204,264   |685,667              

Nottingham Station Street     |367,211   |160,323   |527,534              

Nuneaton                      |272,889   |110,862   |383,751              

Redditch                      |186,886   |77,378    |264,265              

Rugby                         |114,732   |51,024    |165,756              

Shrewsbury                    |295,080   |127,783   |422,863              

Skegness                      |88,564    |39,180    |127,745              

Smethwick                     |500,587   |207,507   |708,094              

Stafford                      |128,752   |56,649    |185,401              

Stoke North                   |404,010   |177,656   |581,666              

Stoke South                   |237,625   |110,928   |348,553              

Sutton-in-Ashfield            |183,187   |80,047    |263,234              

Telford                       |445,432   |191,335   |636,766              

Walsall East                  |330,676   |134,490   |465,166              

Walsall West                  |445,097   |198,232   |643,329              

Wellingborough                |298,713   |136,920   |435,633              

West Bromwich                 |559,297   |239,122   |798,419              

Wolverhampton North           |713,287   |296,127   |1,009,414            

Wolverhampton South           |579,231   |249,684   |828,914              

Worcester                     |278,947   |133,726   |412,674              

Worksop                       |237,560   |99,684    |337,244              


Totals                        |21,186,545|9,058,942 |30,245,487           


4. North East Region                                                      

Ashington                     |221,427   |94,749    |316,175              

Barnsley East                 |602,431   |251,189   |853,620              

Barnsley West                 |355,031   |145,756   |500,787              

Berwick-On-Tweed              |26,112    |12,023    |38,134               

Bishop Auckland               |381,643   |158,242   |539,885              

Blyth                         |217,724   |93,681    |311,404              

Bradford East                 |442,986   |196,697   |639,683              

Bradford South                |397,200   |161,282   |558,482              

Bradford West                 |443,796   |186,072   |629,867              

Bridlington                   |109,409   |52,436    |161,845              

Castleford                    |190,138   |77,631    |267,769              

Chester-Le-Street             |202,581   |85,079    |287,660              

Darlington                    |449,667   |188,278   |637,944              

Dewsbury                      |299,865   |127,316   |427,179              

Doncaster East                |352,879   |143,325   |496,204              

Doncaster West                |543,032   |231,410   |774,442              

Durham                        |158,232   |66,319    |224,551              

Eston                         |291,568   |113,030   |404,597              

Gateshead                     |593,458   |241,873   |835,331              

Goole                         |115,095   |52,322    |167,417              

Grimsby                       |542,123   |219,244   |761,367              

Halifax                       |449,551   |197,962   |647,512              

Harrogate                     |145,803   |64,113    |209,916              

Hartlepool                    |338,628   |134,655   |473,282              

Hemsworth                     |153,033   |69,354    |222,387              

Hexham                        |50,085    |21,885    |71,970               

Houghton Le Spring            |161,336   |66,348    |227,684              

Huddersfield                  |358,945   |154,968   |513,913              

Hull East                     |671,197   |295,477   |966,674              

Hull West                     |558,973   |251,564   |810,536              

Jarrow                        |325,384   |138,204   |463,588              

Keighley                      |195,704   |84,032    |279,736              

Leeds East                    |591,480   |246,151   |837,632              

Leeds North                   |699,290   |299,660   |998,950              

Leeds North West              |362,307   |166,967   |529,274              

Leeds South                   |243,725   |105,300   |349,024              

Leeds West                    |326,381   |142,116   |468,498              

Middlesbrough                 |896,332   |354,181   |1,250,513            

Newcastle East                |430,341   |174,752   |605,093              

Newcastle St. James           |502,248   |207,770   |710,018              

Newcastle West                |417,995   |170,806   |588,801              

North Shields                 |336,436   |145,451   |481,887              

Northallerton                 |84,243    |37,599    |121,841              

Peterlee                      |202,186   |87,199    |289,385              

Pontefract                    |191,449   |81,057    |272,507              

Redcar                        |296,301   |138,058   |434,359              

Rotherham North               |167,787   |71,922    |239,709              

Rotherham South               |537,689   |230,351   |768,040              

Scarborough                   |161,228   |67,263    |228,492              

Scunthorpe                    |370,961   |153,256   |524,217              

Seaham                        |77,923    |34,894    |112,817              

Sheffield North East          |974,273   |411,432   |1,385,705            

Sheffield North West          |723,208   |303,988   |1,027,196            

Sheffield South East          |474,642   |196,972   |671,614              

Sheffield South West          |624,974   |274,772   |899,745              

Skipton                       |30,337    |13,861    |44,199               

South Shields                 |433,545   |183,063   |616,607              

Stanley                       |308,225   |126,013   |434,237              

Stockton                      |634,110   |263,453   |897,562              

Sunderland North              |851,567   |338,682   |1,190,249            

Sunderland South              |533,100   |212,467   |745,567              

Wakefield                     |324,752   |142,422   |467,174              

Wallsend                      |273,606   |115,442   |389,047              

Wath-On-Dearne                |336,146   |134,286   |470,432              

York                          |299,802   |133,022   |432,824              


Totals                        |24,063,620|10,141,138|34,204,758           


5. North West Region                                                      

Accrington                    |196,613   |88,540    |285,154              

Ashton-Under-Lyne             |262,459   |117,239   |379,698              

Barrow in Furness             |156,293   |73,195    |229,488              

Birkenhead North              |640,278   |265,117   |905,395              

Birkenhead South              |301,152   |124,202   |425,354              

Blackburn                     |356,591   |152,858   |509,449              

Bolton                        |598,568   |246,144   |844,712              

Bootle                        |533,794   |209,972   |743,766              

Burnley                       |386,276   |172,747   |559,023              

Bury                          |347,978   |155,287   |503,265              

Buxton                        |25,170    |11,528    |36,698               

Carlisle                      |182,115   |82,342    |264,456              

Chester                       |236,354   |98,035    |334,389              

Crewe                         |240,214   |104,319   |344,533              

Crosby                        |393,660   |162,090   |555,750              

Ellesmere Port                |225,953   |89,094    |315,047              

Failsworth                    |415,759   |176,443   |592,202              

Farnworth                     |214,098   |95,433    |309,531              

Fylde North                   |297,865   |130,674   |428,539              

Fylde South                   |144,366   |65,546    |209,912              

Huyton                        |666,622   |264,259   |930,881              

Hyde                          |333,371   |134,023   |467,394              

Kendal                        |33,667    |14,892    |48,559               

Kirkby                        |684,935   |273,433   |958,368              

Lancaster                     |344,134   |139,283   |483,417              

Leigh                         |267,583   |112,642   |380,225              

Liverpool Belle Vale          |384,710   |157,853   |542,563              

Liverpool Breckfield          |631,306   |253,475   |884,782              

Liverpool City                |396,197   |162,917   |559,113              

Liverpool Edge Hill           |668,835   |258,026   |926,861              

Liverpool Garston             |330,728   |131,583   |462,311              

Liverpool Norris Green        |300,273   |120,474   |420,746              

Liverpool Toxteth             |799,340   |331,820   |1,131,160            

Liverpool West Derby          |173,159   |72,764    |245,923              

Macclesfield                  |88,927    |40,220    |129,147              

Manchester Central            |204,566   |89,425    |293,992              

Manchester Cheetham           |380,254   |163,217   |543,471              

Manchester Chorlton           |353,314   |172,218   |525,532              

Manchester Longsight          |450,612   |191,988   |642,600              

Manchester Openshaw           |331,198   |142,854   |474,052              

Manchester Rusholme           |559,432   |244,743   |804,175              

Manchester Wythenshawe        |456,196   |192,343   |648,539              

Middleton                     |249,628   |103,342   |352,971              

Northwich                     |240,913   |100,537   |341,450              

Oldham                        |433,409   |191,246   |624,655              

Penrith                       |25,264    |11,831    |37,095               

Preston North                 |330,911   |126,254   |457,165              

Preston South                 |235,863   |102,480   |338,343              

Rochdale                      |333,564   |140,740   |474,304              

Rossendale                    |119,022   |52,248    |171,270              

Sale                          |317,676   |136,578   |454,254              

Salford North                 |381,113   |167,969   |549,082              

Salford South                 |251,327   |106,731   |358,058              

Skelmersdale                  |384,801   |162,618   |547,419              

Southport                     |120,735   |52,833    |173,568              

St. Helens                    |574,468   |232,334   |806,802              

Stockport North               |336,623   |137,503   |474,126              

Stockport South               |322,694   |138,202   |460,896              

Wallasey                      |418,170   |169,337   |587,507              

Warrington                    |454,245   |186,157   |640,401              

Whitehaven                    |109,546   |45,323    |154,869              

Widnes                        |669,999   |278,390   |948,389              

Wigan                         |540,889   |237,170   |778,059              

Wilmslow                      |59,321    |27,908    |87,229               

Workington                    |155,151   |70,633    |225,784              


Totals                        |22,060,244|9,263,618 |31,323,862           


6. Scotland Region                                                        

Aberdeen North                |324,995   |136,664   |461,658              

Aberdeen South                |288,795   |125,366   |414,161              

Airdrie                       |659,396   |269,305   |928,701              

Arbroath                      |156,677   |71,030    |227,707              

Ayr                           |743,508   |301,989   |1,045,498            

Bathgate                      |524,997   |223,124   |748,121              

Bellshill                     |489,243   |193,990   |683,233              

Campbeltown                   |39,008    |16,540    |55,548               

Clydebank                     |479,332   |193,619   |672,951              

Coatbridge                    |475,741   |192,395   |668,136              

Cowdenbeath                   |149,213   |69,269    |218,482              

Cumbernauld                   |474,682   |211,784   |686,466              

Dumbarton                     |461,624   |194,681   |656,305              

Dumfries                      |224,927   |98,655    |323,582              

Dundee East                   |452,227   |188,946   |641,172              

Dundee West                   |372,589   |154,368   |526,958              

Dunfermline                   |223,093   |96,750    |319,843              

East Kilbride                 |277,067   |121,959   |399,026              

Edinburgh City                |518,955   |222,994   |741,949              

Edinburgh East                |471,904   |202,701   |674,604              

Edinburgh North               |411,233   |167,807   |579,039              

Edinburgh South               |432,974   |179,642   |612,616              

Edinburgh West                |442,024   |182,844   |624,869              

Elgin                         |164,853   |69,520    |234,373              

Falkirk                       |616,125   |252,999   |869,124              

Fort William                  |75,106    |33,202    |108,308              

Galashiels                    |158,789   |75,861    |234,600              

Glasgow Anniesland            |684,448   |284,249   |968,698              

Glasgow Bridgeton             |456,354   |203,051   |659,405              

Glasgow City                  |565,884   |250,765   |816,650              

Glasgow Craigton              |844,419   |347,990   |1,192,409            

Glasgow Cranstonhill          |98,759    |37,207    |135,965              

Glasgow Laurieston            |847,613   |357,390   |1,205,003            

Glasgow Maryhill              |713,217   |299,598   |1,012,815            

Glasgow Parkhead              |892,547   |368,309   |1,260,856            

Glasgow Partick               |398,764   |166,606   |565,371              

Glasgow Provan                |1,035,477 |416,294   |1,451,772            

Glasgow Rutherglen            |1,079,128 |429,846   |1,508,974            

Glasgow South Side            |865,646   |355,586   |1,221,231            

Glasgow Springburn            |927,660   |380,519   |1,308,179            

Greenock                      |654,289   |265,969   |920,258              

Hamilton                      |1,063,192 |447,633   |1,510,824            

Inverness                     |326,136   |149,629   |475,765              

Irvine                        |746,994   |321,952   |1,068,946            

Johnstone                     |331,768   |136,878   |468,646              

Kilmarnock                    |403,821   |166,720   |570,541              

Kirkcaldy                     |424,204   |172,952   |597,156              

Lerwick                       |22,216    |9,455     |31,671               

Leven                         |156,076   |63,128    |219,203              

Motherwell                    |653,179   |263,883   |917,062              

Oban                          |49,263    |21,678    |70,941               

Paisley                       |823,936   |325,259   |1,149,195            

Perth                         |203,370   |84,464    |287,833              

Peterhead                     |136,006   |60,290    |196,296              

Port Glasgow                  |406,643   |165,995   |572,637              

Stirling                      |399,921   |160,146   |560,067              

Stornoway                     |72,129    |32,710    |104,840              

Stranraer                     |90,519    |39,199    |129,718              

Wick                          |91,977    |41,362    |133,339              


Totals                        |26,574,580|11,074,717|37,649,297           


7. Wales and South West Region                                            

Aberdare                      |281,323   |123,789   |405,112              

Abertillery                   |119,094   |49,186    |168,280              

Aberystwyth                   |94,095    |41,905    |135,999              

Ammanford (Group)             |81,360    |38,263    |119,623              

Anglesey                      |183,796   |76,180    |259,976              

Bargeoed                      |228,385   |92,738    |321,123              

Barnstaple                    |169,204   |78,802    |248,006              

Barry                         |195,243   |80,865    |276,108              

Bath                          |190,540   |83,703    |274,243              

Blackwood                     |141,463   |57,868    |199,331              

Bournemouth                   |277,466   |120,995   |398,461              

Bridgend                      |273,323   |118,509   |391,833              

Bridgwater                    |138,064   |54,339    |192,403              

Bristol Central               |264,123   |116,999   |381,122              

Bristol East                  |298,880   |132,396   |431,276              

Bristol Horfield              |166,519   |70,157    |236,676              

Bristol South                 |390,871   |161,817   |552,689              

Bristol West                  |122,689   |53,334    |176,023              

Caernarfon                    |132,703   |53,382    |186,085              

Caerphilly                    |329,926   |139,599   |469,526              

Cardiff Central               |299,032   |125,895   |424,927              

Cardiff East                  |526,381   |213,772   |740,153              

Cardiff West                  |382,057   |164,352   |546,410              

Carmarthen                    |79,550    |32,716    |112,266              

Cheltenham                    |191,199   |81,329    |272,528              

Chippenham                    |75,112    |35,553    |110,664              

Colwyn Bay                    |172,355   |73,246    |245,601              

Cwmbran (Group)               |333,846   |140,110   |473,958              

Deeside                       |140,614   |61,423    |202,037              

Devonport                     |345,648   |149,804   |495,452              

Ebbw Vale (Group)             |209,720   |84,673    |294,394              

Exeter                        |425,041   |188,942   |613,983              

Gloucester                    |364,755   |158,551   |523,306              

Haverfordwest                 |184,884   |73,398    |258,282              

Launceston                    |86,634    |37,376    |124,010              

Llanelli                      |238,119   |95,571    |335,690              

Merthyr Tydfil                |267,040   |105,445   |372,485              

Morriston                     |307,767   |135,427   |443,194              

Neath                         |161,257   |67,077    |228,333              

Newport (Gwent)               |662,077   |278,899   |940,975              

Newtown (Group)               |96,349    |42,481    |138,829              

Pembroke Dock                 |119,492   |50,949    |170,441              

Penzance                      |158,004   |63,956    |221,959              

Plymouth                      |401,787   |174,891   |576,678              

Pontypridd                    |228,791   |103,227   |332,018              

Poole                         |223,173   |97,670    |320,843              

Port Talbot                   |177,096   |74,259    |251,355              

Porth                         |133,229   |54,975    |188,204              

Porthmadog-Dolgellau          |78,123    |32,779    |110,903              

Rhondda West                  |229,361   |92,610    |321,970              

Rhyl                          |262,960   |115,581   |378,541              

Salisbury                     |117,921   |51,043    |168,964              

St. Austell                   |196,298   |82,422    |278,720              

Stroud                        |113,271   |48,652    |161,923              

Swansea                       |587,165   |268,015   |855,181              

Swindon                       |240,052   |102,929   |342,981              

Taunton                       |186,496   |83,497    |269,993              

Torbay                        |388,969   |171,024   |559,993              

Trowbridge                    |87,608    |39,339    |126,946              

Truro                         |235,100   |102,242   |337,341              

Weston-Super-Mare             |138,411   |59,489    |197,901              

Weymouth                      |128,919   |57,336    |186,255              

Wrexham (Group)               |349,058   |148,016   |497,074              

Yeovil                        |101,032   |48,067    |149,099              


Totals                        |14,510,822|6,215,834 |20,726,656           

Note: The totals may not sum due to rounding.                             


6. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many (a) males and (b) females according to national insurance records have become centenarians in each of the past five years, and in the same period between 1965 and 1969 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Scott : I regret that the precise information requested is not available, but over the past five years there has been a significant increase in the number of people aged 100. The number of women has increased from 1,150 to 1,550 and the number of men has more than doubled from 100 to 210. Today is the 100th birthday of four people and the 106th birthday of another, and one person, Brigadier Mrs. Mary Fewster of the Salvation Army, is celebrating her 111th birthday today. I offer them all my warmest congratulations and good wishes and I shall, with permission, publish a full breakdown of the figures in the Official Report.

Mr. Greenway : I echo those congratulations. Are not these figures yet another sign of the success of the Government's policies, and a clear confirmation of which is the stronger sex? What does the trend of those figures imply for male members of the Cabinet who are hoping to succeed?

Mr. Scott : I shall steer clear of the latter point. Yes, I am encouraged by the fact that men are improving their achievement of this target at a more rapid rate than women. I understand that my hon. Friend runs a club in his constitutency for centenarians. I hope that one day he may qualify for membership.

Mr. Eastham : Does not this question reinforce the fact that as more people are living longer, there is a greater strain on the NHS? Does not the great number of old people who have been added to the figures justify the Labour party's case for spending more on the NHS?

Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. The shift in the demographic pattern in our society will mean more old people, and more old frail people. That has

Column 634

implications for the Health Service, the social security system and other matters. All these are being considered well in advance by the Government.

Mr. Holt : In his list, my hon. Friend omitted Britain's oldest person, who lives in my constituency. The House will be pleased to know that she is still living on her own, and she answered the phone this morning when we rang to find out how she was. She is now well on her way to her 112th birthday.

Mr. Scott : I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend. Following is the information :

The number of people who became centenarians in each of the last five years is not available. The number of men and women aged 100 years as at 31 March in each of the last five years is as follows :

        |1984   |1985   |1986   |<1>1987|1988           


Males   |100    |170    |170    |200    |210            

Females |1,150  |1,250  |1,230  |1,420  |1,550          

Corresponding figures for 1965 to 1969 are not          

available as records did not begin until 1983.          

<1> 30 September 1987                                   

Social Security Payments

7. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make it his policy to introduce amendments into the regulations governing social security payments in order to restore transitional protection to those who now lose it due to such changes in their circumstances as a stay in hospital.

Mr. Scott : No, Sir. I would point out to the hon. Member that the new income support rules for single people who go into hospital are far more generous than the old. Income support for these people now remains unchanged for the first six weeks after admission, by which time about 94 per cent. of people are discharged from hospital. Supplementary benefit used to be reduced from the first week of admission.

Mr. Michael : Does not the Minister's reply amount to a confession that the Government's promise of transitional protection was not worth the paper on which it was written? Does the Minister realise that many people are losing out through having to go into hospital and through many other changes in their lives that are irrelevant to their circumstances? What does he have to say to the lady who discovered that her husband's death triggered a cut in the payments that were meant to assist with her own health? Will he confess that the Government have tried to con the poor?

Mr. Scott : I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman listened to my main answer. Perhaps he was too busy preparing his supplementary question when I was delivering it. Transitional protection will cost about £200 million in its first year. It has been of significant help to many people.

Mr. Robin Cook : Is the Minister aware that the appalling examples of those who have lost transitional protection over the past few months would all have been included in the figure which he used repeatedly last April? He told us then that 88 per cent. would be no worse off at the point of change. Does not that which has happened

Column 635

since then expose how bogus that figure always was? Will the hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the parallel provision for housing benefit, which effectively ceases after six weeks in hospital? There are many frail and elderly patients who find after a spell in hospital that they have arrears amounting to hundreds of pounds? That cannot be justified, and I am even prepared to believe that it cannot have been intended. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to change this vindictive rule before it causes any more distress?

Mr. Scott : I do not agree for one moment with the hon. Gentleman's description of the system. The essence of transitional protection is that it is eroded after time. It is right that we introduced the protection in April 1988 to ensure that no one faced a cliff-edge drop in cash terms. As I said earlier, over 94 per cent. of patients are discharged from hospital within six weeks. We are monitoring the effect on the balance.

Mr. Kennedy : Will the Minister note that many come off transitional protection for short-term employment reasons? My constituency is an example of an area where much of the employment is seasonal and short-term by definition, and those who are engaged in it lose transitional protection. I cannot believe that that was intended as in many instances the effect of the loss of transitional protection is severe. I ask the Minister to review the scheme because the issue goes much wider than the strict definition of the question. There are many who are losing a great deal.

Mr. Scott : We have made concessions for some who are in vulnerable groups. We are monitoring the effect of the present scheme.

Income Support

8. Mr. Wood : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what evidence he has that the new income support scheme is easier to operate than supplementary benefit.

Mr. Moore : Claims for income support are being processed more quickly and accurately than claims for supplementary benefit. Error rates are down from 12 per cent. to 8 per cent. and will fall further. Claims are being processed in five days as opposed to as many as 11, and we shall improve further. People find the scheme easier to understand and the rate of successful claims has increased from 74 per cent. to 80 per cent.

Mr. Wood : I thank my right hon. Friend for those encouraging remarks, which confirm the impression which I have gained from my local office. What is the average clearance rate under the new scheme compared with that under the old? I invite my right hon. Friend to say more about whether applicants are finding it an easier scheme to use than the previous one.

Mr. Moore : There has been a reduction from the worst rate of about 11 days, which we saw in the latter part of 1987. The average number of days last year was seven, and we are now down to five. Our customers are finding the scheme a great deal easier to use, and the staff are finding it enormously simpler. We should all be pleased to know that as a result the success rate has increased.

Mr. Wareing : How is the new system helping people like Mr. Wyatt, a constituent of mine, who was asked at

Column 636

the Department of Employment office how much he expected to receive if he was lucky enough to get a job? When Mr. Wyatt answered £120 a week, my 58-year-old constituent found that his income support was stopped. It was resumed only a few weeks later and the payments were reduced by £6 per week. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about the way in which people like my constituent are discriminated against?

Mr. Moore : I have learnt how important and wise it is to get all the details about individual cases before trying to comment on any particular one. The new income support, in comparison with the old supplementary benefit, has not only made the system simpler, but has improved turnround and the way in which people get their claims settled. I should have thought that all hon. Members would regard that as important, because nearly 4.5 million people are on our live income support load. The new system has reduced the error rate and improved the success rate. I should have thought that all hon. Members would welcome that.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that one of the problems with the old system continues with the present system? There is a tendency among some officers to assure constituents, including some of mine, that a giro is in the post when they inquire about benefit. However, the inquirer finds, after several days' wait and many complaints to the Post Office, that the giro is not in the post. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that officers tell people that a giro is in the post only when they have a document before them which makes it clear that the giro is in the post? That would stop them misleading people.

Mr. Moore : I will look at the point that the hon. Gentleman has made because I have experience of similar cases in my constituency which is an urban area. Overall, the system is working infinitely better than the old, highly complex and very difficult supplementary benefit system.


9. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures are being taken to cut down on social security fraud.

Mr. Moore : Since this Government took office, we have nearly doubled the number of staff on anit-fraud work to over 3,300. Cheats are nothing more than spongers on the rest of us and my Department has stepped up its drive against claimants who cheat. Resources are being used more efficiently. Investigations into high-risk areas are producing good results. More people are being found out. As a result, this year we shall produce the best savings ever, around £250 million--up from £100 million five years ago, but still only one eighth of what the Inland Revenue recovered last year through its compliance work.

Mrs. Gorman : Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations on that not just from Conservative Members, but from people who genuinely claim social security and those on modest incomes who pay taxes towards the people who are cheating the system? Will he assure the House that, when people are found to be defrauding the system, they will be prosecuted and that the widest possible publicity is given to that to deter others from taking that line?

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Mr. Moore : Of course I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. No hon. Member can endorse cheating. However, I should stress that this Government are pursuing this problem sensibly, unlike the Labour Government who believed in a high prosecution policy, did not collect figures for fraud and saw no reason to account for or demonstrate value for money. Last year, 7,231 people were prosecuted whereas during the last full year of the Labour Government's term of office, 21,913 people were prosecuted. That is a sign of the less-than-humane pursuit of a very serious problem.

Mr. Redmond : Does the Minister agree that if claimants at the Department of Social Security are not informed of their due rights, that can also be classed as fraud? Will he restate to DSS officers throughout the country that they are there to help, advise and guide people who make rightful claims and that the duty rests with the DHS to assist those people or they will lose benefit, which would be fraud by the state?

Mr. Moore : There is a duty on the individual and I also fully accept that there is a duty on my offices and staff. In the "Business of Service" report which I am seeking to implement, I strongly endorse not necessarily the hon. Gentleman's words, but ways in which I encourage my staff to treat and serve their customers so that their entitlement to benefit is fully and well understood.

Mr. David Nicholson : While the House welcomes my right hon. Friend's administrative measures to reduce fraud, is he aware that there is a widespread welcome in the country for the legislative measures he is taking--in particular, the Social Security Bill, which is proceeding upstairs? It is unacceptable that in large areas of the country where there is work, people are able successively to refuse jobs and continue living on benefit.

Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend is entirely right. I read with continued interest, and sometimes with amazement, the Hansard reports of the proceedings of my right hon. and hon. Friends and of the Opposition in the Committee on the Social Security Bill and I cannot begin to understand how an Opposition can be so far removed from the basic attitudes, beliefs and views held by the majority of our people--with whom my hon. Friend is so closely connected.

Widows' Pensions

10. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has any plans to amend the relevant legislation in order to restore the age limit for widows' pensions to 40 years.

Mr. Scott : No, Sir.

Mr. Banks : It did not take the Minister very long to come up with that reply, and I am very disappointed with it. Is he aware that about 2,000 women were widowed between September 1987 and April 1988, and therefore fell foul, retroactively, of the changes made in the social security provisions? All those widows will lose about £32,000 each. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going around bragging, at every dinner to which he can get an invitation, that the country's coffers are overflowing, what justification is there for him to deprive the country's bereaved of what is justifiably theirs? If the Minister will

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not reconsider his terse reply, will he at least drop the mean-spirited approach that the Government adopt towards widows whose cases have been upheld by the appeal tribunal? The Government are trying to reverse such decisions? That is mean-spirited, and the Minister should have a heart.

Mr. Scott An important case is shortly to go before the social security commissioner and it would be unwise of me to comment on it. The whole thrust of the policy is to focus on older widows and widows with children. About 55,000 of them benefited as a result of our reforming the system.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my hon. Friend accept that it does no service to younger widows to exempt them from the necessity of earning a living? Nothing can be better for their morale than to get out and come to grips with life again.

Mr. Scott : I very much agree with my hon. Friend's point that widows should be encouraged back into employment. Also, I am advised that about 90 per cent. of widows aged between 40 and 44 remarry.

Mrs. Fyfe : Does the Minister accept that it may be difficult for many widows to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) if they live in constituencies such as Glasgow, Maryhill where the official unemployment rate is 22 per cent.? Furthermore, is it not insulting to tell widows that their only hope, if they cannot find work, is that they had better find themselves husbands? How would the Minister like to be told, in similar circumstances, that he had better find himself a wife?

Mr. Scott : I am saying that we are helping older widows and widows with dependent children. It is right to give them our highest priority. It is worth reminding the House yet again that about 55,000 widows benefited as a result of our reforms.

Mr. McCrindle : Was not the change made on the supposition that it should be easier for younger widows to obtain employment? That must still apply. However, will my hon. Friend note that a number of employers continue discriminating against women because they are--to use their word, not mine--"older"? Will my hon. Friend take the initiative in persuading employers that, particularly as the number of teenagers coming on to the labour market falls, older women represent a particularly important source of future employees, and that age discrimination is not acceptable?

Mr. Scott : I agree with my hon. Friend. Any employer taking such an attitude is being very short-sighted. As we get into an increasingly tight employment situation, with a reduction in the number of young people coming on to the labour market, wise employers will be looking throughout the age range for skills and experience.

Mr. Flynn : Will the Minister reconsider his appalling answer in the light of the experience of Mrs. Valerie Jones of Cwmlas Llanbradach? Her husband died tragically of cancer a year ago, 35 days before her 45th birthday and two months before this law came into effect. Her appeal was upheld by the social security tribunal, and the Government are appealing against that decision.

The DSS and the Government believe that Mrs. Jones should go out to work. Tragically, she herself is now

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